BY TIMOTHY AGBOR, OSOGBO
Osun State is hyped as the cultural and traditional hub of the Yoruba people, owing to its historic endowments and world-class tourist sites.
According to the record by the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, Osogbo, there are 63 tourist attractions and monuments across Osun State. Each of the sites is distinguished for its peculiar attributes in looks, tradition and history.
Some of the centres are historical, while others are spiritual.
Among them are the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove in Osogbo, the Oduduwa Groove and the Oranmiyan Staff (both in Ile-Ife), the Kiriji War Site in Imesi-Ile and Igbajo, the Olumirin Waterfall in Erin-Ijesa, Ayinkunugba Waterfalls in Oke-Ila, the Imesi Mysterious Caves and Movement Rocks, the National Museum in Ile-Ife, the Oke-Iragbiji Shrine and Caves.
The Olumirin Waterfall towers high in form and in popularity with its cliff apparently noticeable in Erin-Oke, Erin-Ijesha, and Erinmo. History has it that Akinla, a granddaughter of Oduduwa, discovered the fall in 1140 AD when the people of Ile-Ife were migrating to Erin-Ijesha.
The ancient Kiriji War Site at Imesi-Ile, in Obokun Local Government Area of Osun State, and Igbajo in LGA are amazing sites where the 16-year-old-war between Ibadan and the combined forces of Ekiti and Ijesa took place. Kiriji was an onomatopoeic coinage attributed to the war. Kiriji is used to describe the thunderous sound of guns and cannons fired by the Ekiti and Ijesa people at the time in history under the command of Ogedengbe, a popular warlord.
The Ayinkunnugba Waterfall at Oke-Ila in Ifedayo Local Government Area of the state is over 80meter high with a total of 236 staircases. Tourists will encounter numerous wonders of nature, tucked in the thick forest in a bid to savour the wonderful work of nature expressed in the beautiful landscape adorned by mountains, caves and big trees.
The Osun Osogbo Groove is a renowned world tourist site that is designated by the United Nation Education, Scientific, Cultural Organisation. The groove, which covers 75 hectares of landmass, was first declared a National Monument in 1965. The sacred groove is teleguided by the National Tourism Development Master Plan with the collaboration of the World Tourism Organisation and the United Nations Development Programme.
Despite tourism ranking high as a global industry and one of the top three constituents of world trade, third after petroleum and the automobile industries, stakeholders however lamented that succeeding governments in Osun State did little or nothing to take advantage of the abundant wealth in the sector.
With tourism as a potential gold mine and money spinning industry capable of boosting the state’s internally generated revenue, experts said that the sector alone could leapfrog the economy of the state and also launch its residents into prosperity from the current high poverty level as thousands of jobs could be generated from it.
Some of the sites remain virgin, having been abandoned and left to waste. They wear the ancient looks with some of the items that distinguish them being plundered with reckless abandon.
The facilities in them and in the communities that house them are largely ageing and dysfunctional without any touch of maintenance.
A visit to some of the local communities where the sites are located revealed that the inhabitants are living in poverty just as they are exposed to illnesses and diseases due to lack of basic infrastructures to support them.
In Erin-Ijesha, a community in Oriade Local Government Area of the state hosting the popular Olumirin Waterfall being visited by tourists from within and outside Nigeria, residents are battling with the challenges of bad road, lack of electricity, lack of hygienic water supply and business lull.
There is no hotel where tourists can lodge, nor is there a hospital where people can be taken during an emergency.
On the lack of basic amenities in the community, the Akinla of Erin-Ijesa, Oba Isaac Adeyeba Ayeni, said that despite the importance of the waterfall as a natural tourist attraction under the management of the state government, the community is in a sorry state.
Oba Ayeni said that the preceding administrations in the state showed no zeal on the development of the tourist centre and the community as a whole.
He said, for instance, that the access road to the Waterfall is in a state of disrepair and stressed the need for the state government to optimise the advantage of the centre for the benefit of people of the state and his domain.
Lamenting the absence of a health centre in the community, he disclosed that ailing residents of the community often travelled several kilometers to neighbouring towns such as Ijebu-Jesa and Ilesa to access treatment.
He also accused one of the indigenes of the community, Pastor Folorunsho Kumuyi, founder and General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, of failing to give back to the community.
Oba Ayeni said that calls made to previous governments in the state to give necessary attention to the town as well as the waterfall or to allow him to manage the facility and remit tax to the state government’s purse were turned down.
He said that “I am pained to the bone that the government has not optimised the advantage of the Erin-Ijesha Waterfall and the neglect has further impoverished my town and people. I have met with former Governor Rauf Aregbesola and former Governor Gboyega Oyetola to allow me to manage the tourist centre and remit tax to the government but they refused.
“The Osun State Government has refused to create an enabling environment for investors to visit my town. The construction project of the access road that the government started in 2017 with a promise of completing it within three months has since been abandoned. My people rely on the Erin-Ijesa water for drinking and for other use and I cried to the state government to assist us in treating the water but nothing has been done. The life of my people is endangered.
“There is no hospital in Erin-Ijesha, no good road and no constant electricity. Once anyone fails ill or there is an emergency, we have to rush the person to Ijebu-Jesa or Ilesa for treatment. In case of emergency, there is no medical facility for treatment.
“In Erin-Ijesha, there is no place for my people to participate in voter’s registration. We only have two policemen at our police post. If the government develops the tourist centre, our economy would be improved. Basic amenities like roads, hospitals and electricity should be provided for my people.”
Giving historical insight to the waterfall, the king explained that “Erin-Ijesa is an agrarian community, an ancient town founded since 1140AD. Our major occupation is agriculture. We also have the Olumirin Waterfall. So, Erin-Ijesa is a tourist town. We settled here purposely because of this waterfall. Unfortunately, the waterfall is still yearning for development all these years and we have been appealing to the government to see what they can do to bring it to an enviable standard.
“We will not relent until something is done. We are also appealing to individuals and private investors, both local and foreign, to check what they can do to help us. We cannot depend solely on the government. I don’t think the government is serious about developing tourist centres. They are used to sharing oil money at the centre rather than looking elsewhere to see where they can generate money.
“When I ascended the throne, I went to the then Governor Rauf Aregbesola in 2016. I asked him to release the waterfall to me, that I would manage it, bring investors and pay tax to the government. He was not disposed to that. I did the same thing by meeting the immediate past governor. What the government is doing is just collecting gate fees. They are collecting entrance fees without embarking on the development of the site.
“My view is that the government has no business in running this tourist centre. What they need to do is to provide an enabling environment that will attract private investors. What I mean by enabling an environment is to provide good access roads, security and electricity that will attract investors.
“As we speak, the state of the road is very bad. If there is no access to the site, how do you attract investors? The government promised to do the 1.5km road to the waterfall more than four years ago, but the road is still waiting for completion. Security is bad. If you go to our police station, you will meet just two policemen. Many times, you will not find them at the station. They might have been recalled for special duties.
“Tourists will not feel safe in that kind of town. We don’t have a hospital. If you get injured, until they carry you to Ilesa or Osogbo, you may not get quality medical attention. These are things that the government needs to face to attract foreign investors.
“We have been bringing private investors to help. If you notice a side of the road to the site being cleared, it has nothing to do with the state government. They are just trying to build a resort. If we can do that, why won’t we be able to manage the waterfall?
“From the little data gathered so far, the waterfall attracts over 50,000 tourists annually. The gate fee is N1, 000 per adult and N500 for children. We have more people during the festive periods. Just on gate fees. Then, you can imagine, if there are cable cars, if there are lifts, if there are swimming pools and other activities, you still have to pay apart from gate fee. If people pay for all the activities, you will see a huge amount of money that will help the government and the community. People will be able to sell pure water, sell food and a lot of things. So, there is a huge benefit. Everywhere you have a tourist centre, not only in Nigeria, around the world, it is beneficial to the community, and that is what I want for my community.
“What I am saying is that we shouldn’t concentrate on gate fees alone. We are not optimising the benefits that we suppose to derive from the waterfall. Today, kings are installed by the government. We are under them. I can only continue to appeal to them.”
On the community efforts, the king said, “The indigenes are trying. Since I came on board, the face of the town is changing gradually. I am trying to appeal to them to come home and join efforts with me to develop this town. I have been appealing to some of them who are rich to also come and develop the waterfall. I had said that we should not leave everything in the hands of the government. Government alone cannot do everything.
“Most tourists that come to this town have nowhere to stay. They have to go to Ilesa or Osogbo or Ile-Ife to sleep. That is not good enough. I have been appealing to them. Whoever can build 20 bedrooms and whoever can build 10 bedrooms should come and build it so that the town can grow.”
In an interview, Babatunde Adaranijo, a resident of the state who is a culture enthusiast, bemoaned the poor state of the tourist centres. He urged Governor Ademola Adeleke to invest hugely in tourism with the aim of developing the host communities and growing revenue for the state.
Adaranijo said, “Most of these tourist centres that you (The Point reporter) listed are decaying and they need urgent attention. It is sad that our government lacks a maintenance culture because I wonder what it will cost the government to cut the bush around the sites, not to talk of investing in them. The last time I passed through Gbongan where the Hassan Olajoku Memorial Park is situated, I almost shed tears. Most of the roads that lead to the tourist sites in the state are in bad condition and you don’t expect tourists to risk their lives plying the bad road to go and catch fun.
“Yes, there are lots of sites in Osun State that should be used to build the economy of the state. Tourism is a sure way to boost and diversify the economy. Government must start realising this and should be doing meaningful things,” he said.